The teens-in-their-bedrooms years

graffiti monsterMy house has gone really quiet and I don’t know what to do with myself. Aside from brief forays for food and toileting, the kids have retreated from the rest of the house and taken up residence in their bedrooms.

It’s my own fault. This Christmas I caved in and set the boys up with the wherewithal to watch DVDs in their rooms. Even as I write that I feel the need to justify it – we have very strict parameters on completion of homework and eating together and both boys participate in heaps of sport and, after all, teens need their space and they promised me they wouldn’t retreat to their bedrooms! I firmly maintain it is the complete box set of Friends that my brother gave them for Christmas that is the real root of the problem.

A lot of attention is paid to the process by which mothers bond with their babies, but not so much on how we are supposed to unbond at the other end of childhood. The attachment process is essential to children’s survival. Newborn babies are so utterly helpless and underdeveloped that if women (and it is mainly women) were not prepared (and hormonally-primed) to enslave themselves to the relentless demands of their infants, the human race would disappear.

Children need caregivers who identify so completely with them that the child’s needs feel like their own needs. In the depths of exhaustion, the mother (and it is mainly mothers) needs to feel so bad when her baby cries that she will drag herself to do something about it and effectively prioritise the baby’s needs above her own.

As childhood progresses, the demands change but the bond remains in force. That intense identification with our children means that as they experience things, we feel it too, and we direct our energies to meeting their needs. Clothes, biscuits, homework, meals, school runs, clubs, new toys, cuddles, bruises, conflict resolution, crying, illnesses, furniture-busting exuberance – in the relentless maelstrom of childhood, parents long for rare moments of child-free peace and quiet.

But, hang on, this isn’t moments, it’s whole evenings, again and again! How am I supposed to come down from all that mutuality now the children no longer need my constant vigil, now they need space to find out who they are in the world? I miss them. And I can’t seem to decide what I want or what I need without the badgering of their wants and needs…

I suspect that once the box set of Friends has been watched end-to-end and the novelty of their TV bedrooms wears off (or they just require me to do something for them) then at least one of them will wander back downstairs. But this is just an early warning, a precursor of things to come and I need to start thinking about who I am when I am no longer synced to their lives.

I am going to have to create a whole new post-childhood me. Quite exciting really!

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©Anita Cleare 2015

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